Wednesday, September 1, 2010

IronMan Louisville 2010

This Mountain girl decided to hit the road one more time this summer, just so I could say I did. I wanted to tackle something big and what could be bigger than an IronMan, I mean nothing is as big as the National Adventure race championship, but this comes very close. 10 months ago when I was considering doing an IronMan (if you don’t know what an IronMan entails, it is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run), I asked around and two friends Jeff and Krystal said they were interested in doing one as well. We all decided on competing in one of the Ford IronMan series races and we were looking for late summer early fall race and something close enough that we could drive to it. So Ironman Louisville fit the bill, who knew that it would be 97 degrees with a heat index of 107 on race day.

Training times didn’t always work out for us as a group, I still have younger kids at home and my free time between work and kids activities is sparse.

So Jeff and Krystal worked out a lot together, I joined when I could, but most of my training was done with my friends, Mark, Jenny and Chuck. Mark did a lot of long rides with me and then I would run after for the bricks, Jenny waited for my slow butt on many long swims plus my early morning runs, and Chuck did long runs and some long bricks with me, plus we did a few 12 hour adventure races. I don’t know how I would have got through the long training without them. Also, my friend Mike let me swim in his lake, so when I couldn’t make it to Krystal’s lake I had someplace to swim.

I was on the 25 week training plan for the race and when I made it to about 20 weeks I was really getting tired of the long training days every weekend, but I kept trudging along. By the last week of training I was starting to doubt whether I could do it or not. I was really worried about making the swim cutoff time and finishing before the 17 hour cutoff. Nervous was not what I was, I was scared out of my mind, worrying that I didn’t train long enough or fast enough. I questioned everything I had done to date, I almost made myself sick thinking about it. Every word out of my mouth that last week was about the race. My kids would say, “what’s for dinner” and I would say, “I don’t know how I’m going to make it out of the swim on time”. I was almost crazy with worry.

Finally the race weekend came, just in time to keep me from going over the edge of insanity. You read that right, yes it is an entire weekend, we had to check-in on Friday afternoon, attend the pre-race dinner, and meeting, which worked out well because I was able to ask questions and get more information on how the day would go.

Saturday was gear check-in, so before we checked in gear, we rode our bikes along the river and looked at the swim course, on one hand it helped me to know the course and on the other hand, it looked like a really long distance to swim. The known is always better than the unknown though. We checked our bikes in and the volunteers took each of us through transition, showed us where to drop our bike and run bags, where to take our bike and run special needs bag which would be available at the halfway point of the bike and run, and what to do with our race day bags. We were each walked through the transition area and tent, told exactly what to expect and reassured that things would be fine and race day would be full of excitement.

Race day finally came, I woke up at 4:30 and headed out to the Great lawn to check my bike one more time and drop off my special needs bags. It was so early the parking lot guy didn’t have the tickets so Rob sat in the van and got the camera ready while I ran to transition to finish last minute race preparations.

When I came back we headed down to the race start where we had to line up and wait. I had 70 minutes until the first person went in the water, and was thinking I would get a good spot in line, but the line was over a mile long when I got there and I wasn’t last in line. Rob stood in line with me, camera ready, hoping his shutter finger didn’t cramp up with all the pictures he was going to be taking. Soon Jeff and Krystal came along the line, I let them in with me, many people were holding spots, so no one complained.

So we talked for a while then at 6:50 am we heard the gun for the pro start, then the line started moving as spectators left their athletes in line for the start, the line was moving pretty fast and I had to go to the bathroom one more time, so I ran ahead and got in the bathroom line, as I watched the swim line moving, hoping I could get in and out of the bathroom before Jeff and Krystal got to me. Just as I walked out of the stinky, disgusting Johnny that had been used at least a million times already, I saw my team and jumped back in the swim line. We moved faster and faster, when we got to the ramp, we started running in a little maze to get to the docks.

As we approached the dock, the volunteers yelled now, as each person jumped in the water. The water was like being in a blender with all kinds of stuff hitting you, arms, legs, even people swimming over your back. It was scary, yet exciting all at the same time.

I felt pretty good the entire swim, and at one point, it was about ¾ miles into the swim, I could see heads bobbing next to me, I took a second look on the next breath and could see a bunch of people walking, and we were in the middle of the river. So I put my feet down and could touch the bottom, the water was only up to my chest, but as tempting at it was to walk while I had a sandbar under my feet, I decided that it would be slower and more effort on my legs to walk, so I kept swimming. The sandbar only lasted about a hundred meters, but it was nice knowing that I would not drown right there. So I made it around the island, past the barges, under the next three highway bridges and to the finish.

Well, there was one issue at the finish, a few athletes for some reason saw the finish and decided they would sprint to it, so there I was again, getting kicked, hit and swam over by another athlete. My theory for the swim is a slow and steady pace, no sprinting, I’m like the turtle of swimming, it may take me a while, but I will get there. Then I made it to the steps coming out of the water and two volunteers grabbed me by the arms and practically lifted me to the pavement. As I ran to transition I heard them announce that Robin Rongey from Edwardsville, IL has made it out of the water, then I heard some spectators yell, “go Illinois”. The feeling of being out of the water was so great, that I almost started to cry.

Through transition I went I was handed my bag as I ran through, and headed for the tent. As soon as I hit the tent, it was amazing a volunteer helped me with everything, brought me water, sprayed sunscreen all over me, made sure I had everything and collected my stuff. She told me good luck and sent me on my way, she was fantastic. I had a hamburger in my bag and ate it while I ran to my bike, I grabbed my bike and headed for the bike mount line, jumped on my bike and was on the road in no time. I saw Rob with the camera taking pictures and I yelled, “I didn’t drown”. He told me later everyone started laughing and then he said “well I guess I won’t be getting the insurance check after all”. The spectators were lined up along the roads and cheering for everyone, it was really motivating.

Before I go into the bike and run, I have to first say that this was the part that had the most possibility of going bad. I had been wrestling with planter fasciitis for months and had tried everything, rolling my foot on a tennis ball, on a frozen water bottle, changing pedals on my bike, changing bike shoes, nothing worked, so I had to just go with what I thought would give me the best chance of having the least amount of pain. My bike now had my mountain bike pedals on it and I was wearing a pair of tie up Lake mountain bike shoes because they were the loosest shoes I owned. My fear heading into the race was that at 2 or 3 hours my foot would start hurting too badly to keep pedaling. My only defense was to work within the conditions. I soon found out that working within the conditions was my only choice.

40 miles into the bike, my right foot started hurting, nothing I couldn’t deal with, but it hurt, at 70 miles I was riding with tears rolling down my face because my foot hurt so bad. While I tried to spin an easier gear to take the pressure off my foot, my left foot started to hurt from compensating for the right foot. To top it off I was going through water and Gatorade faster than ever, in fact I went through 21, 20 oz bottles in 7 hours, plus 16 enduralyte tables. I had on black bike shorts but they were almost white with salt by the end of the ride. To make things worse at 75 miles my quads started cramping, If I stood they would turn into a giant charley horse and lock up, so I had to stay seated. Don’t get me wrong, although I was having issues out there, I told myself I will finish and I had some really great experiences while doing it. My race number had my name on it and as I would pass people or they would pass me they would always call out my name and say good job, or your doing great, a couple pro riders on the their second lap even rode next to me and told me I was doing great, every athlete was such a motivator. Oh, and as I was going up a long climb, who but the devil came running up next to me and he was all decked out, I wish I would have had a picture of that, I felt like I was in the Tour de France. Finally at 90 miles my foot went completely numb, this gave me some really great relief, but too bad that it only lasted for 10 miles and I was back wincing with every pedal stroke. I was watching my Garmin for mileage and was keeping a 16.1 average for the ride, not counting water stop time, and then when the Garmin hit 108 miles the battery died. I knew I had 4 miles to go, but I needed to know where I was, so I kept riding next to people and asking for the mileage. The last guy I talked to before I went into the bike finish, said don’t worry, you can walk the marathon and make the time cutoff, you have a good cushion. I was not as sure about it as he was.

As I went into the chute I saw Rob with the camera, but didn’t have enough energy to smile, I just wanted to get my feet off those pedals. I made it to the dismount line, got my leg off the bike, but couldn’t walk, my legs were completely locked up. A volunteer took my bike and I started to walk, he asked me if I was ok, and I was not going to tell him no, there was no way I was going to give him any reason to pull me off the course. I had already seen so many people being carted away in an ambulance. I would guess it was heat exhaustion in most instances. I finally got the legs working, was handed my bag and ushered into the tent where another volunteer just about dressed me, she pulled off my clothes, pulled on my dry clothes, put my shoes on, sprayed me with sunscreen, got me water, and made sure I had everything I needed. I can’t say enough about these volunteers, they were all just amazing.

So I ran out of the chute eating a hamburger, I saw Rob taking pictures, I yelled to him that my feet were hurting bad and he said, just walk when you have to.

I was running and thinking about how I was almost finished with my first Ironman, all I had to do was run 26.2 miles. Easy right, a mere 26.2 miles to go. I ran up on the bridge looking down at the Ohio River, I was thinking wow, I just swam in that river. I made it to mile 3, which is where the double loops starts, so my thoughts were, just two laps and I’m done. I was actually in a good mood, and my foot felt much better now that I had on running shoes and wasn’t pushing against the small pedals. The problem was I could feel my legs starting to cramp, so I just kept running slow, walking through the aid stations, taking the enduralytes I had in my race belt. I tried eating pretzels to get more salt, but they were too hard to get down, then I tried chicken broth, it went down a little easier and didn’t seem to upset my stomach as much, but I don’t think it gave me much energy. I had sport beans in my belt so I started eating those every few minutes, but soon my stomach couldn’t take them either. By mile 12 I could feel the cramps getting worse, but I kept running, walking only through the aid stations. I was grabbing a couple cold sponges at every aid station, putting one in the back of my sports bra and squeezing the other on my head and legs, that helped for a few minutes, but didn’t last until the next aid station. I had about 5 miles to go on the first lap when Jeff caught me, he was on his second lap, He asked how it was going and I said, I was really cramping up and was out of enduralytes, he gave me the extra ones he had and kept, running, he was running a great pace.

With 4 miles to go until the second lap, I saw Krystal on her second lap, she looked tired but was running ok. I made it to the 14 mile mark and saw Rob, I told him I was going to have to walk most of the last 12 miles, every time I started running, my legs would just lock up from the cramps, but I could walk at a fast pace and they were ok.

As I made the loop past the finish line Rob was at the corner, he had timed my last mile and said I was walking a 14 to 15 minute pace. I calculated the time until the cutoff and found that if I kept that pace, I could easily finish under the 17 hour limit. It’s funny, I had it in my mind that I would finish between 14 and 15 hours, but due to circumstances out of my control, that wasn’t going to happen. I knew that I would finish, even if I had to crawl across the line, I was finishing this race, so now I had to deal with the hand I was dealt and use the best option available. So I walked, and I watched my mile times, they were all between 14 and 16 minutes. So many people were yelling, “you go”, I was walking and they were running and I was passing them. The thing is, I was tired, but that wasn’t what was slowing me down, it was the cramps that turned into painful charley horses as soon as I started running that was making me walk. So I walked and I watched the time, I ate grapes, oranges and chicken broth, those were the items I could keep down. I watched as athletes fell to the ground all around me, as medical personnel and police, picked people up off the course, as people were all over the side of the road puking, and crying, and I just kept telling myself you are going to finish this. As each mile passed I talked to everyone around me, we all complained of leg cramps, but we all had one goal in mind, we were going to finish. As I neared the finish, I was talking to a guy that was doing this race for the 4th year and he said this was the worst it had ever been and his time was hours slower than previous years, he thought it was due to the extreme heat. He told me to make sure I enjoy my finish to run into the finish slow and listen to all the people and the excitement and make sure to smile when I crossed that line. He said there are no words to explain the feeling you are going get. So I ran down that last straight, hoping my legs would go, and the crowd was cheering, it seemed like there were thousands of people. The music was playing, the people cheering were high fiving me all the way down the line, yelling “YOU'RE AN IRONMAN” I ran across that line with a smile on my face and a feeling of accomplishment that I have never felt before. That guy was right there are no words to explain what it felt like, you just have to be there. As soon as I crossed the line a volunteer, put a medal around my neck and guided me though the finish area, stopping for an IronMan picture, giving me water, getting my finisher shirt and hat and asking me if there was someone waiting for me at the end. He walked me all the way to the end of the finish area and stood there until we saw Rob, then he said “Congratulations, IronMan” and went on his way to help the next finisher. Krystal and Jeff finished before me, but I finished, this was not a competition for me, it was to see if I could do it, and I did.

There are a couple things I need to say, first I have had 3 children and having a baby is a piece of cake in comparison to finishing an IronMan. The quality and organization of this race was perfect, these race directors know what they are doing and I think a big part of that is the volunteers, I would have never finished this race without the assistance of the volunteers they were fantastic, I can not say enough about how hard they worked to make this an experience I will never forget. I also have say Thank You to the St Louis Cycling Club and Metro Tri Club for the great support.

Let me answer your question before you ask… Will I do this again…. You better believe it, I will do it again, but next time it will be in a cooler climate.


  1. Jeez, Robin, I'm crying. This is better than the Ironman specials they show on TV. I didn't know you were dealing with plantar fasciitis. You finished an Ironman with plantar fasciitis. You're amazing.

  2. Hamburgers! That's Ultra food. If I can stay healthy and build my miles up I will be going for the 100 next year. We'll have to compare notes on which one is tougher. Seriously you did great and one of these days when I get around to doing an Ironman I look forward to picking your brain.

  3. It was great crossing the finish line. I would do it again too.

  4. Awesome! Thanks for sharing your story, Robin. It's really inspiring. Also, I think you should start a side business marketing hamburgers as endurance food. They'll be the next Cliff Bar.

  5. What a great story, and what a great writer you are! I had tears in my eyes reading this. You are such a great athlete and a true inspiration. The really hard part is being a wife and mother while training for this. xx,janine

  6. Congratulations! What an accomplishment! And even more so with the weather conditions.

  7. You are incredible!!!!!!! I really want to do an Ironman, but I am pretty scared about the heat of Louisville. I'm thinking of signing up for it in 2012. Thanks for your blog. Amazing and motivating!!!!!!!!